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Association of Atherosclerosis with Low Back Pain and the Degree of Disc Degeneration

Kurunlahti, Mauno, MD*; Tervonen, Osmo, MD*; Vanharanta, Heikki, MD; Ilkko, Eero, MD*; Suramo, Ilkka, MD*

Clinical Study

Study Design. This was a cross-sectional observational study in which the abdominal aorta was evaluated for atheromatous lesions visible in computed tomographic scans in patients with and without low back pain.

Objectives. To evaluate whether patients with low back pain have more atherosclerosis in the abdominal aorta than patients without low back pain and whether the severity of atherosclerosis in the abdominal aorta correlates with the grade of disc damage.

Summary of Background Data. There are studies in which results indicate that insufficient blood supply may be a significant causative factor in disc degeneration. There are also studies in which smoking, one of the risk factors for arterial disease, has been correlated with low back pain. Calf pain has also been shown to correlate with low back pain. Results in a long-term follow-up study have further indicated an association between disc diseases and fatal ischemic heart disease. However, there seems to be only one postmortem study in which results show an association between atherosclerosis in the arteries of the lumbar area and disc diseases.

Methods. Computed tomographic images of 29 patients with low back pain, who had been evaluated with computed tomographic discography for diagnostic purposes, were evaluated for the quantity of atherosclerotic calcifications visible on computed tomographic scans of the abdominal aorta. A similar evaluation was performed in an age- and sex-matched control group of 52 patients without low back pain selected from among the patients referred for abdominal computed tomography.

Results. Sixteen (55%) of the 29 patients with low back pain had atherosclerotic calcifications visible on computed tomographic scans, whereas 11 (21%) of the 52 age-matched patients without low back pain were found to have aortic calcifications. Eleven (48%) patients with low back pain who were 50 years of age or less (n = 23) had aortic calcifications, whereas only 3 (8%) of the 36 control patients aged less than 50 years had aortic calcifications. There was no correlation between the amount of calcifications and the degree of disc degeneration assessed by computed tomographic discography.

Conclusions. A significant association is indicated between atheromatous lesions in the abdominal aorta and low back pain. Key Words: aortic calcification, disc degeneration, low back pain, spine]

From the Departments of *Diagnostic Radiology and †Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Oulu University Central Hospital, Oulu, Finland.

Acknowledgment date: April 25, 1996.

First revision date: September 8, 1998.

Acceptance date: November 9, 1998.

Address reprint requests to

Mauno Kurunlahti, MD

Department of Diagnostic Radiology

Oulu University Central Hospital

Kajaanintie 50

90220 Oulu, Finland


Device status category: 11.

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.